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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

22                              THE GAY GENIUS

The young child entered school at the age oŁ six. It was a fair-sized
school with over a hundred pupils, all of whom studied under a Taoist
priest. The brilliant young mind quickly distinguished itself, and
among the great number of pupils Su and another child were the most
praised by the teacher. This other pupil, Chen, later also passed the
state examinations but became a Taoist with the ambition to become
"an immortal". Quite late in his life, Chen was preparing to go up to
Heaven, and he came to ,pay a visit to one of his friends. The friend
gave him food and money. He went out and distributed the food and
money to the poor and then sat down in Taoist fashion outside the
gate, ready to depart from this earthly life by starvation. Some days
later, to all intents and purposes, he had breathed his last. The friend,
therefore, called his servants to remove the corpse. However, it was
New Year's Day, and the servants complained at having to remove a
corpse on such an auspicious day. Thereupon the dead man said:
"Never mind, I will carry myself." He got up, walked to the country,
and died in a more convenient place. Such is the factual manner in
which many of the Taoist recluses were supposed to have "ascended
to Heaven".

As a child Tungpo interested himself in other things besides study.
After school, he would come home and peep at the birds' nests. His
mother had strictly forbidden the boys and maidservants to catch birds,
as a result of which, in a few years' time, the birds knew that they
would not be molested in this garden and some came to build their nests
on a branch low enough for the child to see. Su Tungpo remembered
particularly a small bird with wonderful bright plumage that came
and visited their garden for days.

Now and then, an official would pass by the town and pay.them a
visit, since Tungpo's uncle was already an official. There would then be
a hullabaloo in the family and the maidservants would run about bare-
footed to pick vegetables from the garden and kill chickens to prepare
a dinner. Such visits of the officials produced a deep impression upon
the child.

He played with his cousins on the mother's side. He and his younger
brother would visit the village fairs or dig in the vegetable garden. One
day the children dug up a beautiful stone slab with a wonderful lustre
and having delicate green veins in it. They struck it and it gave out a
clear metallic tone; they tried using it as an ink slab, and it served the
purpose very satisfactorily. Ink slabs had to be of a special porous stone,
absorbing and retaining moisture well; they had a great deal to do with
the art of calligraphy. A specially good one was always highly valued
by a scholar, since it was an object upon his desk with which he had to
do most of the day. The father gave the child this slab, which he kept
until he grew up, and upon which he carved a special inscription. This